John Redwood wants to declare war on the administrators, discovers Nicholas Pyke. Proposals to "fast track" schools and parents into opting out of local authority control are an unnecessary distraction from the real business of raising standards, according to the Conservative 2000 Foundation, the Euro-sceptic think-tank sponsored by John Redwood, the prominent right-wing MP who last year challenged John Major for the Tory party leadership.
Mr Redwood told The TES that parents should remain free to choose whether they want grant-maintained status. "I would like to see more GM schools," said Mr Redwood, the former Welsh Secretary, "but I'm quite happy with our current system, which lets parents decide.
"We're not going to have a significant minority of GM schools let alone a majority. So we need very much to concentrate on the majority of schools who remain with the local education authority."
Mr Redwood's educational agenda appears similar to the traditionalist manifesto promoted for the past decade by the Campaign for Real Education. He champions parent power, strong leadership, traditional teaching methods and tests. "Bureaucracy", teacher training colleges, LEAs and left wing educational theorists are the chief bogeys.
In immediate terms, he believes standards will be improved through a major purge of "unnecessary" form-filling - he deems at least one half of educational paperwork unnecessary - and in particular through the publication of primary school test results.
"This is so that parents seeking advice about primary schools have better information at their disposal," he said. "I do think there are a number of primary schools around the country that are letting their children down in quite a big way. We need a debate. It's not entirely related to the background of the children and the income of their parents, as some people claim. It's much more likely to be related to the quality of teaching."
Mr Redwood claimed that the "real books method" and "let the children learn at their own pace" are at the root of a lot of the trouble. "Children are often bored. They're left to their own devices, not under enough pressure to be stimulated.
"Parents who choose the private sector for their children do not think they are buying a low pupil-teacher ratio. What they say they're buying is energy, expectation and determination."
According to Hywel Williams, Conservative 2000 Foundation's policy director, the central factor is a lack of firm leadership; which has allowed egalitarian social scientists to run amok. "If you go into a good school it's almost inevitable that there is a central dominating figure: the headteacher who sets the standards," he said. "Unfortunately schools have been seen as great social laboratories, allowing social engineers to wreak their havoc and destroy the chances of so many children in the inner cities."
Mr Williams reckoned the chief agents of inappropriate teaching methods are training institutions, which are in the grip of "illiberalism masquerading as freedom of thought".
"When I went to university it never occurred to me that there are right answers that I had to get," said Mr Redwood. "The danger in some teacher training establishments is that there seems to be a received wisdom - one which rather conflicts with the complexity of human relationships and of learning. "
Needless administration is the second dragon ripe for the right wing sword. "All areas of bureaucracy are still growing," said Mr Williams. The bulk of the blame is attributed not to the Department for Education and Employment, but to "interventionist" local education authorities, where "there are still too many administrators".
Mr Redwood, who had a paper-scrapping reputation in Wales, said: "When you have got local management and schools that are genuinely self-governing, you don't need very much central reporting," he said. "A very large number of forms still arrives through the letter boxes of teachers in LEA schools. One half to three quarters are unnecessary."
The Office for Standards in Education is also criticised. "Inspectors should concentrate their efforts on what statisticians call the bottom quartile, " said Mr Redwood. "I think you can have too much inspection. We should be able to gather most of what we need to know through active governing bodies and proper test results."
After all, added Mr Williams, "surely the best inspectors are the parents themselves."